On Saturday, April 23, nine Levittown residents opened their doors and invited visitors into their homes. But the daylong event wasn’t just a tour of the Long Island neighbourhood that’s become synonymous with the birth of suburban development. Each of the homeowners collaborated with New York architects and designers to re-imagine their abodes as enterprising alternative spaces for making money. Among the installations: a house transformed into a semi-sheltered casino, and another converted into a “Domestic Museum,” where visitors can pay to experience the home as a relic of a bygone era.
The idea – hatched by Droog’s founder Renny Ramakers and developed in collaboration with architects Charles Renfro and David Allin of Diller Scofidio + Renfro – is a response to the housing meltdown that has left so many middle-class Americans struggling to make ends meet. According the press release, “the proposal addresses the challenges posed by urban sprawl and single-owner consumption. The new residential marketplace not only brings more capital and density to the neighbourhood, it also increases social cohesion through service exchange.” While the money raised will go to charity, the event is intended to demonstrate how entrepreneurialism could potentially re-invigorate the declining suburbs across the country.
It has also turned into a showcase for innovative design talents working in New York, like L.E.F.T., a firm run by Makram el Kadi and Ziad Jamaleddine and a winner of the Emerging Voices award from the Architectural League of New York last year. The duo teamed up with the owners living in Levittown’s House #1 to create the dramatic circular curtain that turned the home into an impromptu indoor-outdoor casino.
Janette Kim, principal of All of the Above, and architect Erik Carver have recently garnered accolades for Underdome, an online map that outlines approaches to energy management and catalogs viewpoints expressed by key economists, environmentalists, scientists and designers. For House #2, they came up with Block Pantry, a concept based on bartering services and goods. Essentially, those who would rather not cook can drop off fresh groceries in exchange for hot meals made by someone who likes to cook. These neighbourly exchanges break down boundaries, and over time would adapt to match needs and various domestic arrangements.
The owner of House #5 is a former teacher and school principal. He worked with multidisciplinary designers Austin + Mergold to create a kind of public classroom facility. Thanks to a front porch extension, he can provide everyone with an opportunity to teach or learn, and all sessions are recorded and made available online for curious learners — from Levittown to the world.
While only 150 Manhattanites hopped on the shuttle bus to take in the daylong event, Levittown plans more open houses for the future. The bigger goal, however, is for residential marketplaces, such as the ones its residents have come up with, to start cropping up across the country. The exhibit’s website invites everyone to join the Open House Movement, by adding your own house/business to the provided Google map.